My Turn

My Perfect Macintosh Line

Andrew W. Hill and Sam Burrish - 2001.07.18

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

This isn't an article about what I think Apple will do, but what I think it should do. I'm not delving into the deep unknown or adding overly new technology. This is what I would announce at Macworld New York if I were to recreate Apple's entire product line.

I think Apple should stick to four main products. Let's all admit it, the Cube was cool, but it was a mistake. We'll have a low-end and a high-end desktops and laptops. iMac, Power Mac, iBook, PowerBook. I am going to increase the differences between the "consumer" and "professional" products, mostly because that allows for cool features that most people will not want or need.

Also, the keyboard will have a power button. I know the problems that were associated with the power key on USB keyboards, but in this perfect world Apple will have found a fix. Many people keep their G4s under a desk, where it's really inconvenient to switch on/off or reboot it when something goes wrong (it's not that perfect of a world).

The internal modems will be V.92, not V.90. This is a subtle change, but one I believe Apple should make immediately. The V.90 supports 56k downloads, but only 33.6k uploads. V.92 supports 56k both upstream and downstream. ISPs will have to update their equipment, but once the modems get into circulation, V.92 should take off.

Apple will also be sending some niceties in the box. They'll throw in a 6 foot USB cable, a 14 foot 10/100Base-T cable, a 6 foot phone cable and phone line splitter, and a spindle of 100 CD-Rs (if you have a model with a CD-RW). If you buy a laptop model, the AC adapter takes 90-250 V AC and comes with a 6-piece adapter set so you can use it in obscure countries. They'll also give you a nice headphone set with a boom microphone. Its these little things that make you sit back and think "What a nice company!" In my opinion, that makes all the difference between a good buy and a great buy.

Lets check out the proposed lineup.

iMac

I'm not pushing for a change in the iMac's shape. I think the CRT is just fine, and it helps keep costs down. Possibly a switch to a Trinitron tube (most iMacs use shadow mask tubes), but I honestly have trouble telling the difference. Many people claim Trinitrons are significantly sharper. Obviously the colors will change with the current season; I'm not even going to get into that. While predictions for Macworld are that there will be flat-panel iMacs, and it is true that the iMac's design is four years old, I would rather see a price cut or better specs instead of putting the money into an LCD. All models will feature a 100 MHz bus with two PC100 SDRAM sockets, two 12 Mbps USB ports and a 400 Mbps FireWire port. There will also be a standard VGA output port. This will probably just do video mirroring, but maybe a $150 option will allow it to give extra screen space. Using Apple's favorite naming systems, there will be three models, designated Fast, Faster, and Fastest.

Fast will be a 500 MHz G3 (750cx) with 256 KB of L2 cache, one 128 MB PC100 SDRAM DIMM, a 30 GB UltraATA/66 hard disk, and either an 8x4x24 CD-RW or a DVD-ROM. Sure, people will complain that the rewrite speed is slow, but it isn't a commonly used feature, and it will help to keep the price down a bit. Fast would sell for $799.

Faster has a 600 MHz G3 (750cx) with 256 KB of L2 cache, one 256 MB PC100 SDRAM DIMM, a 45 GB UltraATA/66 hard disk, the same CD-RW or DVD option as Fast, and would sell for $1,199.

The $1,499 Fastest iMac will show people that iMacs are not just toys. Many people buy iMacs for reasons of simplicity or size, not just price. Fastest is equipped with a 700 MHz G3 (750cx) with 256 KB of L2 cache. In addition, for an extra $500 you can swap out the G3 for a G4 (7410) running at 700 MHz, with 256 KB of L2 cache. This would have one 512 MB PC100 SDRAM DIMM standard and a 60 GB UltraATA/66 hard disk. It would have a 8x4x24x CD-RW/10x DVD-ROM combo. For an extra $200 you can trade the CD-RW up to a 16x10x32, but you lose the DVD. Apple will offer every new iMac buyer the opportunity to purchase an external FireWire CD-ROM for $100 so they can duplicate CDs. Naturally, if you get the G4 upgrade, the standard iMac case will have a "G4" shadowed into it in a similar manner to the Blue G3s. Everyone needs a status symbol.

Power Macintosh

Here is where I yell about cases. I have few problems with the current Power Mac case, but one is fairly severe - external-facing drive bays. Currently there's one 5.25" half-height bay and one 3.5" third-height bay. The only Mac-compatible devices that fit that 3.5" bay are hard drives and Zip drives. Due to heat, its a bad idea to install a hard disk there. So if you don't buy Apple's Zip drive, you have an empty space - or you can toss in a front mounted USB hub. Most 3.5" devices such as DATs and magneto-optical drives are half-height and will not fit in that bay. So we're going to make the case about a half inch higher, kill the Zip, and have two 5.25" drive bays. An external USB Zip 250 will be available as an option for only $75 with the purchase of your computer as a consolation. In the process, we may need to sacrifice the upper ATA drive bay, but most master-slave cables are long enough that you can sit the two drives side-by-side.

On the back of the machines you will notice an internal 56k V.92 modem, 10/100/1000BaseT ethernet, two 800 Mbps FireWire ports and two 12 Mbps USB ports. The four 66 MHz 64-bit PCI slots are accompanied by a 4xAGP (266 MHz) port which will be filled by an Nvidia GeForce 3. Apple will no longer carry the ATI Rage128 or Radeon options. No offense to ATI - I'd just like to simplify things a little. There will be four PC133 SDRAM sockets. I think Apple should not go DDR - with SDRAM they can offer ludicrous amounts of incredibly cheap memory, which I believe will go over better with the consumer. It would be nice to have DDR on the higher models of the G4, but unless Apple is willing to put compatibility for both on the G4 logic board it isn't worth it. Multiple G4 motherboards is definitely out. All the G4s will use the super-fast 7450 chip for motherboard simplification.

Fast will be a 533 MHz G4 (7450) with 256 KB of L2 cache and 1 MB of L3 cache running at 266 MHz, 256 MB of RAM, and a 30 GB UltraATA/100 hard disk. It would have a single 8x4x24 CD-RW and for $200 extra you could add a DVD drive. This $1,499 machine is basically the iMac for people who need PCI slots or a bigger screen.

Faster will boast a 733 MHz G4 (7450) with 256 KB of L2 cache and 1 MB of L3 cache at 266 MHz. Standard equipment would be two 256 MB PC133 DIMMs, a 45 GB UltraATA/100 hard disk, a 16x10x32 CD-RW, and a DVD-ROM. This would be priced at $2,499.

Fastest is a 1 GHz G4 (7450) with 256 KB of L2 cache and 1 MB of L3 cache at 333 MHz, two 512 MB PC133 DIMMs, an 80 GB UltraATA/100 hard disk, a 24x10x32 CD-RW, and a DVD-ROM. The Apple "SuperDrive" DVD-R would replace the DVD-ROM for $200. The L3 cache can be boosted to 2 MB for a nominal fee. Fastest goes for $3,499.

Being the Power Macintosh, options abound. Ultra320 SCSI is available with up to three 72 GB 15krpm drives. The Adaptec 2930cu makes up the UltraSCSI compatibility card, which would go at the very reasonable price of $60. Extra RAM would be available at a reasonable price, say twice the market rate. As of writing this article, the going rate was about $30 for 256 MB of RAM for the new G4. Dual processor 533s or 733s are available, but not the 1 GHz due to supply issues. You could upgrade either of the lower G4s to a 24x CD-RW, but the DVD-R is available only with either the 1 GHz or the dual 733 MHz machines.

iBook

In my opinion, Apple has the iBook just about right as it is. The base model would have 128 MB soldered on the logic board like the others, but apart from that, they would be identical. The V.90 modem would be upgraded to a V.92 modem. 500 MHz G3 on a 66 MHz bus, one (empty) PC66 SO-DIMM socket, a 12 Mbps USB ports, a 400 Mbps FireWire port, 10/10Base-T, a 56k V.92 modem, a 12.1" screen and a 10 or 20 GB hard disk. I would rather not see a 14" screen replace the 12" one for two reasons. The first is to give the PowerBook a larger edge over the iBook. The second is that I don't think the extra space is worth the extra size. My personal computer is a Duo 210. I have a PowerBook 5300, but I use the 210 because it has a smaller footprint.

Instead of a price cut or major speedbump I would rather see the 20 GB hard drive made standard. In making the only decision the type of optical drive, Apple has made buying a laptop even easier.

CD-ROM would remain priced at $1,299, DVD-ROM at $1,499, CD-RW at $1,599 and CD-RW/DVD at $1,799.

PowerBook

The Titanium is already a great machine. However, it doesn't have CD-RW - even as an option - and it could do with a speed bump. I would like to see the media bay return to the PowerBook, but I doubt that will happen, as it requires extra space and thickness. For simplicity's sake we'll have just two version of the new PowerBook. Both will have two PC100 SO-DIMM sockets and a CD-RW/DVD combo, as well as two USB ports, a 400 Mbps FireWire port, 10/10Base-T and a 56k V.92 modem. The current size and shape would be fine. While some complain that the 15.2" screen makes it large, a careful observer will notice that it's the same size as a clipboard or binder, commonly carried at the same time. Apple would include a line tester with this model to verify that the phone lines in hotels and such won't fry the internal modem. Its happened.

Faster (true to the "Large-Extra Large-Jumbo" system) has a 500 MHz G4 with one 256 MB PC100 SO-DIMM and a 20 GB hard disk. This would go for $2,499. The obviously $3,499 Fastest would run at 650 MHz and would feature a 512 MB PC100 SO-DIMM and a 30 GB hard disk. Apple would include the extra AC adapter and battery, as well as a USB mouse. When you fork out $3,500 for a laptop, its nice to know they're including some of the smaller things.

Andrew W. Hill (a.k.a. Aqua) has been using Macintosh computers since 1987 and maintains that the Mac SE is the perfect Macintosh, superior to all - including the Color Classic. He is on the verge of being evicted from the family home due to its infestation of Macs (last count: about 50). Andrew is attempting to pay his way through college at UC Santa Cruz with freelance web design and Mac tech support.

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